Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ WebMasters Who Have No Clue

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Sept 18, 2000 wrote:

  => On Fri, 08 Sep 2000 09:05:11 -0600, Stephen Downes <> said:

Better yet, don't encourage the Chronicle at all - websites which charge subscriptions are parasites.

I'd reccommend you rethink that perspective.  Certainly the Wall Stree Journal isn't a parasite.  I doubt the Chronicle is either.  Some sort of lucre-flow is going to have to occur for us to maintain the production qualities we see in print media with established revenue models.  Advertisement surely isn't doing it online.  Micropayments maybe?  Or how do you suggest that the Journal contiune to put beans on its' reporters tables in an online-only world?

  - Allen S. Rout

Insofar as the Wall Street Journal charges subscriptions, it too is a parasite. The description applies to any site which charges subscriptions.

Many sites maintain high production values without charging subscription fees; my mailbox overflows each morning with high quality technology and media journals. These sites nonetheless make money. Some of it is from advertising, more of it is from targeted advertising, and some of it is from demographics.

There is no reason why a journal such as the Chronicle cannot make enough money to pay its writers (if, indeed, it does pay its writers - many academic journals pay their writers in off-prints). It targets a highly specialized market in a lucrative industry. That access alone akes it a prime marketing vehicle.

I could easily picture the Chronicle making a lot of money as a prime destination for such things as employment advertisments, or service directories.

The Chronicle's main problem, in my view, is that it sees its web site as analogous to a print publication. But the web is not a print medium, and the economics which apply to print media do not apply to the web. Without going into this in detail, let me simply say that the Chronicle's content production should be viewed as one aspect of a larger service. Its website should be multifunctional, not unidimensional.

Producers of university websites should understand that. There is no thought of charging for access to a university website, not even to highly desirable pages such as the university calendar, because the website does much more than provide content. The website acts as a storefront for the university as a whole, providing admission and course registration opportunities, marketing the university's sports teams and research programs.

Charging a subscription to such a site would be like charging admission to walk through the campus gates. No university
would do that because they understand that the traffic is more important than any revenue they could get from the gate. The
Chronicle should adopt the same approach, offering services over and above mere information.

Finally, the reason why I depict such sites as parasites - as opposed merely to businesses employing an alternative revenue model - is that they are charging subscriptions in a medium which was intended to be, was designed to be, and for the most part is, a free medium of exchange. The Chronicle played no part in developing the internet as a world-wide network, and yet simply rides on this free highway while putting private one-way toll booths on its site.

If the Chronicle wants to charge for access to its site, then it seems to me that at the very least it should pay royalties to Tim Berners Lee and the many others who developed web technology, to the U.S. military and NSF for developing the basic internet protocols, and to the many hundreds of thousands of people who made the internet worthwhile to those many people who now visit it on a day to day basis.

In other words, I view providing free access to your site as a way of paying back the development and production costs of the internet as a whole. And I view people who charge for access as people who are taking advantage of that development without paying their fair share.

What I am most worried about is a proliferation of subscription sites. Such a development would slow traffic and slow internet development, just as the placement of toll-booths on too many roads would make the traffic system an unenviable mess. And the goodwill of those many people who continue to develop internet technologies on a volunteer basis would be lost.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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